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26 March 2010

Shirley Thomson's Report From Washington, D.C.

Shirley Thomson consented to share this from her recent trip:

I’m just back from a week of research fun in Washington, DC. The relevance of that for CGS friends is that I traveled with Bette Kot. Bette was CGS’s librarian for several years during which time she served the society in many capacities, including board of directors and publication committee. She moved from Walnut Creek to Parker, Colorado, five years ago where she now teaches genealogy and continues to stay busy researching Gorrell family history.

Bette and I traveled with Sandy Aberer, a fellow The Master Genealogist (TMG) software user who lives locally in Diablo, to visit the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library. We enjoyed it all, even with six days of rain and cold weather. The libraries serve a wonderfully rich banquet of information to researchers who all too often get by on crumbs of data and slender tidbits of history.

Shirley Thomson, Bette Kot and Sandy Aberer

The difficult part was deciding how best to use our hours there. In the end, time was about equally divided between the three libraries. Happily, both NARA and the LC offer evening hours.

NARA:  I wanted to find Civil War pension files for two ancestors. Indexes to pension files are available on and at the Archives, of course, for those arriving unprepared.

One of my men was listed with both an invalid pension and a pension for minor children at his death. The other’s record also contained two—an invalid application and certificate and a widow’s pension application and certificate. Armed with the numbers, I submitted “pull requests” to the Archives staff. They pulled the files from the vast collection of archived records and made them available in about an hour.

Taking my newly issued researchers’ ID card (acquired on the first visit there) and some money for copies, I went to the secure reading room to pick up the envelopes and settled at a comfortable desk to read and copy records. Papers in the files included information about the soldiers and their families from neighbors, friends, doctors, fellow soldiers from those long-gone days, and the applicant too of course. Reading them was a spiritual event.

Civil War pension records are a fraction of what’s there, of course, but they’re not available anywhere else. While pension papers for soldiers of the Revolution are now available on, such records for those who served in the Civil War and War of 1812 are not.

Library of Congress:  After registering for our “reader cards,” we attended an LC orientation session and spent the majority of our time there in the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room. While satisfying for sure, we were just nibbling at the edges of offerings on that menu.

The LC catalog is on the Internet, of course, and it goes on forever, since it has just about everything ever published in the USA—or close to it. Time spent on the on-line LC catalog before arrival there is a good investment.

NSDAR Library: Here I thought I’d prepared reasonably well at home using the library’s catalog on line. But I found it hard to work methodically once I could meander through the open stacks midst vast numbers of family histories, local histories and periodicals. There, also, was that immense collection of DAR-generated records—copies of everything the society has collected and published over the years—and much of it searchable on the library’s computers.

What a week! It was pleasurable travel with friends to libraries offering glorious possibilities. Perhaps Washington—along with Salt Lake City, Fort Wayne and Boston—would be a good destination for a future CGS group research trip.

Photograph courtesy of Shirley Thomson, 3/16/2010, Washington, D.C.


Cathy said...

Now I want to go to DC. I appreciated the appetizing imagery, and I will refer back to the article if ever I decide to make the trip.

Diana Wild said...

So inspiring to read about research in DC. Also a pleaseure to see Bette Kot is looking so well. She taught the first genealogy class I ever attended when the CGS library was in San Francisco.

Tim Cox said...

A trip to DC is definitely on my list of places to go. I agree with Cathy, you gave us a very appetizing imagery!

Sanjay Maharaj said...

A trip to DC should always be on everyones list of places to go, it has so much to see, I remember visiting in 1999 and only spent two day but needed more days to see it all.
The report is great and full of fun stuff